DUBAI/AMMAN/WASHINGTON – King Abdullah II of Jordan on Wednesday vowed a “relentless” war against the Islamic State group on its own territory in response to a video published by the hard-line group showing captured Jordanian Air Force pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh being burned alive in a cage.
Large crowds gathered close to the capital’s international airport to welcome home Abdullah, who cut short a visit to the United States after hearing of al-Kaseasbeh’s murder.
Jordan hanged two Iraqi jihadis — one a woman — on Wednesday and vowed to intensify military action against Islamic State.
“We are waging this war to protect our faith, our values and human principles, and our war for their sake will be relentless and will hit them in their own ground,” state television quoted the king as saying during a security meeting.
The fate of al-Kaseasbeh, a member of a prominent tribe that forms the backbone of support for the country’s Hashemite monarchy, has gripped Jordan for weeks.
Some Jordanians had criticized the king for embroiling them in the U.S.-led war, which they said would provoke a militant backlash.
But the brutality of the pilot’s killing has produced a wave of outrage and calls for revenge, prompting speculation that the kingdom may prepare ground troops to confront Islamic State militants.
While public support for the deployment of troops to Syria this time had been lacking, al-Kaseasbeh’s death has changed how people see the Islamic State group, according to political writer and columnist Labib Kamhawi. “Jordanians are so angry and would strongly support any action that leads to strong retaliation,” he said. “People want revenge.”
In a statement Wednesday, the king vowed a “severe” response, saying “the blood of martyr Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh will not be in vain.”
The pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, called for “very severe retaliation” against the jihadis.
State television showed a black banner with an image of the pilot and played patriotic songs. It also showed programs about the army.
“Today there is a broad consensus in Jordanian public opinion on the need for a war against (Islamic State) and a firm response,” said Mohammad Abu Remman, a researcher at the University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies.
“Jordanians have realized for the first time since we’ve talked about the international coalition against IS that they are in a state of war,” he said.
Amman “could increase its participation in the coalition and ask to review the strategy it has adopted which is limited to airstrikes,” said analyst Hassan Abu Haniyeh. “Jordan could consider a ground invasion.”
In a televised statement to the nation, the king urged national unity and said the killing was a cowardly act of terror by a criminal group that has no relation to Islam.
Jordan is a major U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic extremists and hosted U.S. troops in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Currently, hundreds of U.S. military trainers are bolstering defenses at the Syrian and Iraqi borders, and the nation is determined to keep the jihadis in Syria away from its frontier.
Ashton Carter, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, on Wednesday vowed to resolve reported delays in American arms sales to Jordan, saying it is important for the kingdom to be able to acquire the weapons it needs.
“We need partners on the ground to beat ISIS,” Carter told the committee during a hearing on his nomination, using another name for the Islamic State group. He added that Jordan needs help in fighting a “savage and nasty” foe.
There were expressions of outrage from Muslim clerics across the Middle East, even those sympathetic to the jihadis’ cause. They said such a form of killing is considered an abomination in Islam, regardless of the justification used.
Egypt’s top Muslim authority, the 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar university, revered by Sunni Muslims around the world, issued a statement expressing “deep anger over the lowly terrorist act” by what it called a “Satanic, terrorist” group.
The grand sheik of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, said the killers themselves deserved to be “killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated.”
In Qatar, the International Association of Muslim Scholars, headed by prominent cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi and linked to the influential pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, called the burning of al-Kaseasbeh a criminal act.
“The association asserts that this extremist organization does not represent Islam in any way, and its actions always harm Islam,” it said.The Islamic State posted a religious edict on Twitter calling it permissible in Islam to burn an infidel to death.
However, senior clerics across the Islamic world argued that inflicting death by fire is always banned under Islam.
“The prophet, peace be upon him, advised against burning people with fire,” said Sheikh Hussein bin Shu’ayb, head of the religious affairs department in southern Yemen, speaking in Aden.
Saudi cleric Salman al-Odah wrote on his Twitter account: “Burning is an abominable crime rejected by Islamic law regardless of its causes.”
“It is rejected whether it falls on an individual or a group or a people. Only God tortures by fire,” he added.
Even clerics sympathetic to the jihadis’ cause said the act of burning a man alive and filming the killing would damage the Islamic State group.
“This weakens the popularity of Islamic State because we look at Islam as a religion of mercy and tolerance. Even in the heat of battle, a prisoner of war is given good treatment,” said Abu Sayaf, a Jordanian Salafist cleric also known as Mohamed al-Shalabi who spent almost 10 years in Jordanian prisons for militant activity including a plot to attack U.S. troops.
“Even if the Islamic State says Mu’ath had bombed and burned and killed us and we punished him in the way he did to us, we say, “OK but why film the video in this shocking way?’ ” he told reporters. “This method has turned society against them.”
SITE, a U.S.-based monitoring service, quoted Abdullah bin Muhammad al-Muhaysini, whom it described as a Saudi jihadi, as saying on Twitter it would have been better if al-Kaseasbeh’s captors had swapped him for “Muslim captives.” His killing would make ordinary people sympathetic to al-Kaseasbeh, he said.
Still, some admirers of Islamic State cheered the killing. In a Twitter message, a user called Suhaib said: “To any pilot participating in the crusader coalition against the holy warriors — know that your plane might fall in the next mission. Sleep well!”
Still, people across the region mainly expressed disgust.
“This is a criminal, barbaric act that has no place in Islam or humanity. Islam bears no responsibility for them, and their claim to be an Islamic state is ridiculous,” said Nawaf al-Dweik, 43, an engineer from Ramallah in the West Bank.
“There should be a joint Arab force to go in and destroy these killers and be rid of them once and for all,” he added.
“I have never heard of any group that claims to be Muslim and commits such atrocities,” said Shadi Abdel-Wahhab, a 22-year-old university student in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital.